Destination: Papal Mass

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Philadelphians have heard a lot lately about what Pope Francis’s visit means, not only for his flock but for their city. From one news report after another, they have learned one thing it means: more traffic.

But one Episcopal priest is determined to help his congregation find meaning more profound than delays on the roadways. The Rev. Jonathan Mitchican, rector of Church of the Holy Comforter in nearby Drexel Hill, has been urging his flock to pray for the pope’s journey and to remember Anglicanism’s longstanding high regard for the papacy.

“The Anglican tradition has always maintained that there is a rightful place for the pope as the first bishop among equals,” Fr. Mitchican wrote in the September edition of The Comforter, his church’s newsletter. He quoted from the 1976 report from the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which has pursued deeper ecumenical unity between the two churches since 1969.

“The ministry of the Bishop of Rome should not be an obstacle,” the ARCIC report said, “but rather should function as a possible instrument of ultimate Christian unity.”

Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia can bring refreshment for all of Jesus Christ’s followers in the region, according to Mitchican. He’s inspired by the pontiff’s way of applying faith to current issues. Though Francis is more outspoken on climate change than his predecessors were, he quotes them extensively in his 2015 encyclical on the topic, Laudato Si’.

“He’s not inventing something new,” Mitchican said, “but he’s finding ways of bringing out pieces of the faith and bringing them to light.”

Mitchican plans to practice what he preaches about the papal visit. He will attend an outdoor Mass at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families on Sept. 27. And he’s determined not to let traffic stop him.

“You can’t take the SEPTA, the train system, that weekend unless you get a very special pass, and I got one,” he said. “It’s exciting. I mean, how often does the pope come to your city?”

Image of SEPTA Train at Merion Station by Montgomery County [Pa.] Planning Commission, via Flickr

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